Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gypsies and Orientalism in German Literature and Anthropology of the Long Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Gypsies and Orientalism in German Literature and Anthropology of the Long Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt

Saul, Nicholas. Gypsies and Orientalism in German Literature and Anthropology of the Long Nineteenth Century. London: Manley Publishing, 2007. 188 pp. $69.00 hardcover.

The Romany Holocaust under National Socialism took the lives of an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 Gypsies in Europe (1). While the origins of the Jewish Holocaust in anti-Semitic discourse have been well-documented, what are the cultural origins of the Romany Holocaust? Nicholas Saul's book approaches this question by tracing the representations of Gypsies in German anthropology and literature from 1850 to World War I. Saul documents the increasing role of Social Darwinism and race theory in German texts featuring Gypsies, especially after the founding of the empire in 1871, but he ultimately concludes that one can not claim an inevitable ideological path to the Romany Holocaust. Using Homi Bhabha's definition of "cultural hybridity," Saul analyzes the diversity of Gypsy-German encounters at the core of German literary texts of the period, many of which actually criticize anti-Gypsyism (162-64).

In admirable detail, Saul offers close readings of a number of German literary texts, arguing that Gypsies serve as a foil for explorations of the struggle with German nationhood, identity, and race across the long 19th century. He grounds German literary representations in the work of anthropologists of the time, most notably Heinrich Grellmann, whose 1 793 study established the image of the Gypsies as an uncivilized yet beautiful race (5). The Zigeunerromantik in the early part of the century "both affirm [ed] and subvert [ed] " the anthropological accounts (42), depicting German encounters with an idealized Gypsy aesthetic that would save Germans from the pains of capitalism, industrialization, and modernization (Arnim, Brentano). These hybrid Gypsy-German utopias were short-lived, however, and by the end of the Zigeunerromantik, the appearance of the Gypsy came to signify a harbinger of the destruction of German national identity (Mörike, Immermann).

German Realists Raabe, Keller, and von Strauss und Torney reformulated the Romantic Gypsy-German encounter in the 19th century by criticizing laws that implemented strict policing of Gypsy settlements (60-61). Their German characters recognize the instability of their own identities as mirrored in the fate of the Gypsies, who are being persecuted by police and state. …

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